Dear Parishioners and friends,
Our church buildings will remain closed until further notice. As this is the case, I offer you a recorded and written reflection here which outlines some of my thinking over these last three months.
For the audio version of these reflections please click here
28 February 2021
Here we are in the second week of Lent, and as yet there is no clear idea as to when we might meet face to face. Yet, we do have the privilege of time to ourselves. You have been graced with time, and so I invite you to reflect upon what it means to be a Christian and to live in the Power of Christ. As Christians, you have probably heard that you are to follow in the way of Jesus.
And calling the crowd to Him with His disciples, He said to them, “If anyone would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me.” (Mark 8:34)
This is a very powerful passage. At some point, most of us will have queried, “But how does a person follow Jesus when Jesus no longer walks among us in the flesh?”
Perhaps we should first ask, “Who is Jesus that we should follow Him?” Jesus, who came into this world as God’s Son, born of the virgin Mary and conceived by the Holy Spirit (Luke 1:26-38; Matthew 1:18-25) is the fulfilment of God’s words spoken to the serpent 4,000 years beforehand in Genesis 3. In the creation account, Satan manifested himself in the serpent who then insinuated himself between God and the first humans, luring Adam and Eve to relinquish their trust in God and hand it over to Satan. Therefore, God said to the serpent, “And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel (Genesis 3:15).” From then on, there has been a continual battle between man and Satan. God assures us, through His Word, that there will come a time when the woman’s offspring (ie., her seed) will stand against and conquer Satan and all the evil that he has fathered in this world (ie., all death, disease, sickness, hatred, bitterness, shame, deception, etc.). The woman’s seed — her child — will Himself take the poison of the serpent — of Satan — simultaneously crushing Satan’s head, thereby destroying Satan’s power over man once, in one massive blow, and effective for all time.
Over 3,000 years after He spoke to the serpent and over 700 years before Jesus walked the earth, God, speaking through the prophet Isaiah, reminds us that a woman will bear us a child, who will be the one to bring humanity back into complete union with God. “Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel (meaning God with us). (Isaiah 7:14)
Isn’t it remarkable that God has been thinking of us, long before we ever thought carefully for ourselves or of Him? That is astonishingly good news. God cares about us, and has cared about us continually right from the beginning.
When Christ died upon the cross, He stomped on the serpent’s head. Jesus, in defeating Satan, took upon Himself all that Satan has to offer, namely, every malignant thought, every sickness and disease, all sin, rot, and death (1 Peter 2:24; Matthew 8:17; Isaiah 53:4, 11-12). Through that tremendous act of selfless love, all of humanity was liberated and changed forever (John 3:16-17; Matthew 1:21; 1 John 2:2; 2 Corinthians 5:21; Acts 4:12; Galatians 2:20; Ephesians 2:8-9; John 15:13).
So, returning to Mark 8:34 and our question about how to follow someone you can’t see, Jesus offers two conditions that must be met in order to accept His invitation. Firstly, let him deny himself, He says. To deny [your]self is to humble yourself, to recognise that perhaps you do not, in fact, know more and know better than anyone else; that your lack of understanding does not render something “nonsense.” To deny [your]self is to set aside your own selfish interests — that sounds harsh, but, yes, I do mean selfish — and place your trust back into God’s capable hands, believing that He can provide better for you than you or your family can or the government or the lotto can.
Let him… take up his cross, is the second condition enabling us to accept Jesus’ invitation. Whereas to deny [your]self is an exercise in not exhalting your opinions or ways or capabilities over God’s, taking up [your] cross addresses the more physical aspect of denying or humbling yourself. A cross in Jesus’ time was an agonising means of torture resulting in death. Have a look at Galatians 5:23: Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. To put it less graphically, you are asked to say, “No,” to being ruled by the cravings and desires that this world (ie., the flesh) encourages you to indulge in. As anyone who has ever given up a favourite food for Lent can attest, it can seem agonising, even tortuous at times! Even more so, I expect, for those with addictions to alcohol or drugs or even video games! From chocolate to social media, from smoking to television, from gambling to more pernicious activities, there is no end to the cravings, passions, and desires that aim to rule over us and hold us captive. The choice is yours whether to reprioritise: you can choose freedom in Christ or relentless servitude to never-satisfied desires.
Follow Me, is not a demand, but Jesus’ kindly invitation to us. To follow implies allowing yourself to be led by a leader who typically uses words to communicate directions. Throughout childhood and youth, we don’t start off already understanding the words, much less the reasoning behind our parents’ or teachers’ communications, decisions, or actions. In time, through obedience born of humility, through patient perseverance, we mature in our thinking and understanding and eventually come to see the wisdom that was once beyond our comprehension. It is the same with God’s Word, which is the means by which He leads us. You follow Him by trusting in Him and in His Word, even when you don’t yet comprehend that Word, when it still sounds like utter nonsense. In humility, with patience, and with perseverance, you read and consider and reflect what God is saying to you throughout the Bible, and follow His directions.
You might recall a children’s game called “Follow the Leader,” where the leader walks and weaves and dances about, often accompanied by silly antics, and the followers are to imitate every move. In a similar way, to follow Jesus is to model your behaviour on His. To know how He behaved, check out the words of Galatians 5:22, which list the fruits of the Holy Spirit. Coincidentally, every one of these traits also describes how we witness Jesus conducting himself throughout the gospels: loving, joyful, peaceful, patient, kind, good, faithful, gentle, and self-controlled. If you have received the Holy Spirit then you already have every one of these nine traits embedded in your spirit. It is up to you to trust that God is true to His Word and to start practicing these nine character traits of Jesus.
Incidentally, if you are not sure whether you have received the Holy Spirit, according to Luke 11:10-13, you have only to ask, believe, and receive!
For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened… how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him?
Pray: Father, I recognise my need for Your power to live a new life in You.
Please fill me with Your Holy Spirit. By faith, I receive it right now!
Thank You for baptising me. Holy Spirit, You are welcome in my life!
If, like many of us, you struggle at times to understand scripture, you can ask for God’s wisdom (James 1:5) and pray:
Lord, open my heart and mind
by the power of Your Holy Spirit,
that as I read these scriptures,
and Your Word is proclaimed in my heart,
I may hear with joy
what You say to me today. Amen
God Bless you,
Tel. (028) 37117
If you would like to see other reflections written by the Rector you may find them here: http://tommystuppence.blogspot.com
If you would like to hear some of Steve's sermons online then please click here
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